icon-cookie
The website uses cookies to optimize your user experience. Using this website grants us the permission to collect certain information essential to the provision of our services to you, but you may change the cookie settings within your browser any time you wish. Learn more
I agree
blank_error__heading
blank_error__body
Text direction?

July’s Book Club Pick: ‘Pachinko,’ by Min Jin Lee

Image
Min Jin LeeCreditCreditElena Seibert

When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.

By Krys Lee

(This book was selected as one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2017. For the rest of the list, click here.)

PACHINKO
By Min Jin Lee
490 pp. Grand Central Publishing. $27.

Min Jin Lee’s stunning novel “Pachinko” — her second, after “Free Food for Millionaires” (2007) — announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: “History has failed us, but no matter.”

“Pachinko” chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. The novel opens with an arranged marriage in Yeongdo, a fishing village at the southern tip of Korea. That union produces a daughter, Sunja, who falls in love at 16 with a prominent (and married) mobster. After Sunja becomes pregnant, a local pastor offers her a chance to escape by marrying him and immigrating together to his brother’s house in an ethnic Korean neighborhood in Osaka. Together, they embark into the fraught unknown.

Pachinko, the slot-machine-like game ubiquitous throughout Japan, unifies the central concerns of identity, homeland and belonging. For the ethnic Korean population in Japan, discriminated against and shut out of traditional occupations, pachinko parlors are the primary mode of finding work and accumulating wealth. Called Zainichi, or foreign residents, ethnic Koreans are required to reapply for alien registration cards every three years even if they were born in Japan, and are rarely granted passports, making overseas travel nearly impossible. From a young age, Sunja’s oldest son sees being Korean as “a dark, heavy rock”; his greatest, secret desire is to be Japanese. His younger brother, Mozasu, even after he accumulates great wealth through his pachinko parlors, confides to his closest Japanese friend: “In Seoul, people like me get called Japanese bastards, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean no matter how much money I make or how nice I am.” Mozasu’s son, Solomon, learns this too quickly after graduating from an American university. He returns to Tokyo on an expat package with the Japanese branch of a British investment bank, then is fired once his ethnic Korean connections are no longer needed for a business deal. Still, Solomon is of a new, less wounded generation. He believes there are still good Japanese people and sees himself as Japanese, too, “even if the Japanese didn’t think so.”

Measure
Measure
Related Notes
Get a free MyMarkup account to save this article and view it later on any device.
Create account

End User License Agreement

Summary | 5 Annotations
Pachinko” chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family
2017/02/05 14:42
Pachinko, the slot-machine-like game ubiquitous throughout Japan, unifies the central concerns of identity, homeland and belonging.
2017/02/05 14:43
For the ethnic Korean population in Japan, discriminated against and shut out of traditional occupations, pachinko parlors are the primary mode of finding work and accumulating wealth
2017/02/05 14:43
Koreans are required to reapply for alien registration cards every three years even if they were born in Japan, and are rarely granted passports, making overseas travel nearly impossible
2017/02/05 14:44
Mozasu, even after he accumulates great wealth through his pachinko parlors, confides to his closest Japanese friend: “In Seoul, people like me get called Japanese bastards, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean no matter how much money I make or how nice I am
2017/02/05 14:45